Review: The South Africa-Set Hitchcockian Thriller ‘Number 37’
Though Number 37 plays like an updated, Capetown-set Rear Window (with some Nicolas Winding Refn thrown in), this is a gritty, suspenseful crime thriller that offers up enough original twists to breathe new life into the genre.
Randal (Irshaad Ally) is a young thief who borrows money from ruthless loan shark Emmie (Danny Ross) to start his own drug-dealing empire. The deal goes bad, however. Now paralyzed and wheelchair-bound, he moves into a flat in a crime-infested area, ironically called Haven Mansions. He is accompanied by his devoted but long-suffering girlfriend, Pam (Monique Rockman), who is now their sole breadwinner. She longs for Randal to go straight and get a legitimate job, but their lives remain at risk while he still owes money to Emmie.
Pam gifts Randal with a pair of binoculars to occupy his time while she’s at work. As he scans the windows in the building opposite him, he witnesses a crime. Desperate to pay off Emmie, he decides to blackmail the culprit known as Lawyer (David Manuel) — another ironic name. He enlists the help of their neighbor, Warren (Ephram Gordon), to retrieve the money, but plans backfire horribly, drawing Randal and Pam into an even more deadly trap.
As Randal and Pam, Ally and Rockman are the only sympathetic characters in the piece, despite their involvement in crime. Pam’s unwavering commitment to Randal seems perplexing at first, especially when he lashes out, but the actors are convincing as the committed lovers who realize that this is the best they’re going to get out of life. Gordon’s Warren seems trustworthy at first, but greed gets the best of him — literally.
Ross’s Emmie is a gleefully unrepentant sadist. When we are introduced to him in the opening scene of the film, he is overseeing the brutal torture of another victim. Other characters are rubber stamp-style cops and criminals, which is appropriate, except for Sandy Schulz’s Lieutenant Gail February, who seems truly concerned by the couple’s plight.
First-time feature writer/director Nosipho Dumisa is skillful at turning the screws in this thriller. Like James Stewart watching Grace Kelly, Randal can only observe helplessly as he sends Pam out into real danger, and trying to flee his would-be killers in a wheelchair makes for some hair-raising sequences. Dumisa’s deliberately claustrophobic film is well-shot by Zell Van Zyl, atmospherically scored by James Matthews and tightly edited by Simon Beesley.
Number 37 plays in select theaters throughout November and On Demand Nov. 20 from Dark Star Pictures.